Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Closer Look at a Second Look at a Horrible Evil

From an email I just wrote to some friends ...

The other strange thing about the Westians is they thrive on subtext, but refuse to acknowledge it.  When McGuiness says that we should participate in a thought experiment in which we go "all out" for pornography, because "virtue" (in scare quotes), penance, mortification and the like are scrupulous and ineffective weapons against porn, we all know what he's saying; but when we call him on it, the Westians jump in with, "It was a thought experiment!" or "He never said 'confession is useless' - show me where he said those exact words!"  The plain meaning of what West and his ilk write does the trick for their eager audiences; but when we criticize them we are told to stick to the exact words and a very literalist interpretation of what is written.  The audiences don't take them literally, but their critics are told to.

At any rate, if it's literalism you want, it's literalism you'll get.

These are literal words from McGuiness' article, "A Second Look at Porn", and my literal responses to them.

The truth about pornography – and it is probably a truism in Catholic circles – is that it does not go far enough.

What would pornography look like if it "went far enough"? 

“Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God,” G.K. Chesterton famously observed and it is no less true of men engaged in solitary Onanism.

Chesterton never said that.  And again, my reply: if a man knocking on the door of a brothel is looking for God, he is looking for God in all the wrong places.  If men "engaged in solitary Onanism" are likewise looking for God - well, all I can say is whenever I wanted to find God or anything true, beautiful or good - even when I was an atheist - the last thing I did was shut the door and masturbate. 

The moralists out there would tell us that the solution to the scourge of porn is “virtue” or self-control or some twelve step program or perhaps intensely frequenting the sacrament of reconciliation; while not discounting the value of confession or the usefulness of AA-type programs in dealing with sexual addictions, I must insist that virtue is a consequence of something else, not something that can be gotten at directly as it were

Why do you put virrtue in scare quotes, Mr. McGuiness?  And why is it that those who suggest that virtue, self control, 12-step programs and frequent confession are called - literally - "moralists" by you?  These are exactly the thing that helped me overcome my active participation in this addiction.  Does that make me a "moralist"?  You go on to say that you are not "discounting" the value of these things suggested by "moralists", but you say that virtue cannot be gotten "directly as it were".  What do you mean by that?

No, the solution is not to be found in mortification or penance alone, but in beginning to take our own humanity seriously; seriously enough to go to the depths of the inner meaning of our Baptism, which incorporated us into the Body of Christ, in the flesh.

Well, here's what St. Paul said about the "depths of the inner meaning of our Baptism" -

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. ... For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. ... Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. (Rom. 6)
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col 3:5) 

It sure sounds as if the "depths of the inner meaning of our Baptism" is indeed mortification - putting to death all that is earthly in us, such as sexual immorality.  These ineffective things the "moralists", as you call them, counsel, are the very things St. Paul points to as the things that guarantee the effectiveness of our new life in Christ.

We take our humanity seriously when we don't “short circuit” the questions that desire raises in us. The Catholic moralist would say, “Impure thoughts, bad! Stop having them;” the Catholic realist asks, “Impure thoughts, what are you really after?”

Mr. McGuiness, I was an active porn addict for many years, and I know exactly what my impure thoughts were after.  My heart was restless until it rested in God, but my impure thoughts were restless until they fed on the trash they were "really after" (in your phrase).  Not all of our desires are redeemable; not all of our sins are redeemable; this is why the new wine is put into new wineskins; this is why Baptism and its inner meaning - death to sin and mortification of sinful desire - is so important.

If you find scrupulosity satisfying, then, I would say, “Keep at it."

Now, friends, this is a trick of many of these Westians, and other bad writers.  So far McGuiness has said that "virtue" (in scare quotes), mortification, 12-step programs and frequent confession are not effective against porn - though he quickly adds that he does not "discount" them.  (Why does he not discount them, if they're not effective against porn?)  

And now suddenly the "moralists" who counsel this approach are advocating "scrupulosity" - which, of course, is never "satisfying".

This subtle shift from "moralist" - itself a somewhat pejorative term - counseling ineffective "virtue", to a kind of Puritan ("don't have evil thoughts!") counseling "scrupulosity" is simply sinister.

But these are his literal words.


But I can't go on or I'll get sick.

Suffice it to say that the lame defense, "When McGuiness tells the reader to go ALL OUT FOR PORN, he's telling the reader to do so as a THOUGHT EXPERIMENT" is just that, a lame defense.

And the people who defend this abysmal article as advocating porn only as a THOUGHT EXPERIMENT need to have a THOUGHT EXPERIMENT of their own.

They need to start experimenting with Thinking.


jvc said...

On "misinterpreting" West...

I keep asking my Westian friends, why is it that this never seems to come up with any other well-known or popular Catholic writers? Isn't that a bit odd?

No person, at all, reads Edward Sri's excellent book on Love & Responsibility and comes away with a confused message. No one reads the actual JPII and considers him dangerous. No one read the 10 pre-West Catholic marriage manuals I've found on Amazon and studied and reacted with ghastly horror.

So, why West? People are all just out to get him? Why? For what reason? Because of his addiction to blue dress shirts from Kohls? What is it? And why did none of that ever happen with any previous Catholic writer? It's just a mystery, or a quirk in the universe, or what? It can't possibly be that West isn't teaching the same message, can it?

jvc said...

This whole controversy over taking West literally versus non-literally is part of the gnostic message of West.

The proper way to understand it is that there's a sort of secret knowledge that the Westians have and share with one another. An enlightenment, on the subject. West's subtext is that sex explains everything, and if you, audience member, are smart enough to appreciate that then you've entered into the special knowledge club. Otherwise, you're just a dummy who isn't bright enough to be allowed in the special knowledge club.

Kevin O'Brien said...

And that's why, JVC, I suspect that when a commenter puts forth a novel and nutty interpretation of the Prodigal Son Parable ("sin your way to salvation"), it probably shows what's being communicated to the illuminati,as it were - the esoteric message saved for the 13th-level "Masons" who have attended enough Westian Rock Concerts and seminars to get the real low down.

Is it possible that the commenter who posted that here just stumbled upon a stunningly wrong-headed way to interpret that parable? Yes, that's possible, but she didn't seem intelligent enough to get that far, to come up with a simply sinister way of understanding Luke 15 that just happened to fit the Westian template exactly.

Anonymous said...

Not all of our desires are redeemable"
Kevin, I believe you gave here the definitive answer to this shameful mess.
To recognize that certain acts are indeed intrinsically evil is to acknowledge, by the same token, the reality of salvation by grace.
When one is assailed by evil desires, his only way out is not in some self meditation upon his subconscious longing, but the pierced hand of Jesus, stretched forth to pull him out of the mire....


Rosemarie said...


"But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna." - Mt. 5:28-29

Translation: “Impure thoughts, bad! Stop having them!”

Seraphim said...

I am not a fanny of Christopher West. But after reading McGuinness' article, I was really, really disappointed with your response, which was nothing short of libellous in its misrepresentation. I don't see how you could read the original article and come away thinking that it does anything but show why pornography is wrong.

You asked what pornography would look like if it did go far enough. And the answer is really clear - it would look like sacramental marriage. What did it not go far enough in? Its fulfillment of our God-given sexual desire, for which it substitutes Unreality for reality.

Concupiscence is defined as the wrong application of a right desire. Pornography is concupiscent because it misapplies our sexual desire. Your insistence that sexual desire is unredeemable is a denial of the Christian sacrament of marriage. It is Manichaeanism. The desire for pornography IS redeemable, and Christ created its redemption in a little town called Cana in Galilee.

What was the purpose of the "thought experiment"? To show us that we don't take pornography seriously enough - that it is a much worse problem than we treat it as. Same goes with Walker Percy critiquing the affected melancholy of fin-de-siecle aesthetes, saying they weren't taking suicide seriously enough.

Go to confession and read the article again. This misrepresentation was downright shameful.

(By the way, this doesn't require any gnostic "secret knowledge" or any other wild paranoid claims. It just requires knowing how to read.)

jvc said...

The natives become so restless when their god is challenged!

I'm delighted that the Westians are now coming out and admitting the obvious, that if porn and sin is merely an incomplete good, than the complete good of pornography is marriage.

You and your friend West are twisted people.

Anonymous said...

I am afraid that the kind of teaching you emulate does not take into account the seriousness of pornography (as in "serious sin" or "grave offense to chastity"

Kevin O'Brien said...

Why is it that Catholics in comboxes think it's OK to tell other Catholics to "go to confession" when they disagree with them? This is not the first time someone angry at me has said this.

"Go to hell" might be more vulgar, but at least it's a bit more honest.


Seraph, our sexual desire is not bad in and of itself. It is made for marriage and for the marital act, which combines love with making babies. Sexual desire is good.

But pornography, as you point out, is a twisting of that desire away from the end for which it was designed.

The mistake the Westians make is saying that since sexual desire is good, any expression of that desire must be redeemable. This is wrong.

Try this analogy. Anger is good. In and of itself the emotion of anger is meant to be a response to injustice - that's why you're angry at me, Seraph, since you think I've treated McGuiness unjustly. But anger without constraint, anger not properly channeled, becomes Wrath, a deadly sin. And one expression of that deadly sin is murder. Is murder redeemable?

You say Pornography Gone Far Enough is Marriage. Is Murder Gone Far Enough Justice?

Anger is good. Wrath is bad. Murder is an expression of Wrath.

Libido is good. Lust is bad. Pornography is an expression of Lust.

This stuff is really rather simple, Seraph.

Now, if you think I've misread McGuiness, then how on earth do you explain my DIRECT QUOTATIONS FROM HIS ARTICLE?


See you after confession.

Jon W said...

I wonder if West's problem is somewhat caused by not recognizing the true moral object of an action: it's not the desire, the purpose, or the physical activity per se, it's what you're doing.

I suspect West wants so badly to affirm

1. that the desire, in itself, is good, and
2. that the desire is part of an essential operation of our being the final end of which is union with God,

that he is not recognizing the unity of a moral action with its attendant physical drives. He's not recognizing that an accelerator might be good in itself, but that's not especially important or enlightening since it never exists by itself. It always exists as part of a car that's driving and pointed in a particular direction.

jcb said...

Part of the issue may be that McGuiness is treating the desire for pornography as though it were just an expression of the desire for sex, so we can "interrogate" our desire for porn to learn the true purpose of sex. But porn has nothing whatsoever to do with the true purpose of sex. It's the opposite of "communion of persons."

While my desire for porn may use some of the same psychological and physiological machinery as my desire for sex, it's a different beast entirely. "Interrogating" it serves no useful purpose other than forcing me to face the fact that I am capable of monstrous evil. Kill it with fire, and with moralizing.